New Delhi: The Supreme Court declined to grant a stay on the recent Allahabad High Court’s order, permitting the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) to survey the premises of Gyanvapi mosque in Varanasi, except for the ‘wuzu khana’ area.
The bench, led by Chief Justice D.Y. Chandrachud and Justices J.B. Pardiwala and Manoj Mishra, recorded an undertaking from ASI that no excavation would take place during the survey.
The court directed ASI to complete the survey process using non-invasive methods to ensure no harm is caused to the existing structure.
Senior advocate Huzefa Ahmadi, representing the mosque management committee, requested the ASI report to be kept in a sealed cover until the pending plea regarding maintainability is decided. However, the bench rejected this request.
The Supreme Court agreed to hear the plea filed by the Anjuman Intezamia Masjid Committee after it was mentioned for urgent listing on Thursday. The Allahabad High Court had earlier dismissed the plea challenging the Varanasi district court’s order for the ASI survey of the mosque premises, except for the sealed area.
The high court emphasized that the survey is necessary for justice but should be conducted without dredging. The ASI had assured that radar mapping would not harm the mosque’s structure, while the Mosque Committee expressed concerns about potential damage during the survey.
In an interim relief passed on July 24, the Supreme Court ordered that Varanasi court’s direction allowing an extensive survey of the Gyanvapi Masjid by the ASI will not be enforced till 5 p.m. on July 26. It asked the Masjid Committee to move the Allahabad High Court to challenge the order passed by the Varanasi district court. On July 21, the district court directed the ASI to ascertain whether the mosque was built over a pre-existing Hindu temple, holding that the scientific investigation is “necessary” for the “true facts” to come out.
The Varanasi court order sought a report from ASI up to August 4 when the matter was to be taken up next. The court, however, ordered the exclusion of the section which had remained sealed since the Supreme Court order in May 2022. The area under seal is where Hindus insist a Shivling has been found, while Muslims claim it is part of a fountain.
The district court order came on applications moved by four of the five Hindu plaintiffs who filed a suit in August 2021, demanding the right of unhindered worship at the Maa Shringar Gauri Sthal. The mosque management committee, in its reply, refuted that the mosque was built over a temple, maintaining the structure at the spot was always a mosque. It opposed the survey, saying such an exercise cannot be ordered to collect evidence.
In another plea filed under Article 136 of the Constitution, the Anjuman Intezamia Masjid Committee has challenged the order of the Allahabad High Court upholding maintainability of Hindu worshipper’s suit filed before the Varanasi court.
The Supreme Court recently restored this plea, which was inadvertently disposed of while an order staying survey of the Gyanvapi Masjid till 5 PM on July 26 was passed. It directed for revival of the pending appeal after Solicitor General Tushar Mehta also acknowledged the inadvertent error.
In its order passed on May 31, the High Court had dismissed the revision application filed against rejection of application under Order VII Rule 11 of the Code of Civil Procedure (CPC) by the District Judge. The district court had held that the suit seeking relief of the right to worship the deities located in the disputed property is maintainable and is not barred under the Places of Worship Act, 1991, Waqf Act, 1995, or the Uttar Pradesh Sri Kashi Vishwanath Temple Act.